By Kary Booher
After last year’s eight seniors walked across the graduation stage, Carl Junction High School baseball coach Flave Darnell in essence turned to the next group of Baseball Bulldogs and said, “Well, now’s the time to show what you can do.”
The past two years certainly raised expectations at Carl Junction, which won 52 games in that stretch.
In fact, two years ago, the Bulldogs reached a Class 4 state quarterfinal. Last year, they finished 27-9, second in the Big 8 Conference, won a Class 4 district championship and suffered a sectional loss. But thanks to a productive 2016 summer schedule, Carl Junction has reason to be optimistic.
“We’ve got some seniors who have been hungry, so we’re excited to get going,” Darnell said. “They’ve been waiting their turn.”
Those seniors are pitcher-outfielder Hunter Adams, middle infielder Colby Sullivan, pitcher-third baseman Dason Boren, middle infielder Josh Cannon, pitcher Jake Allison, pitcher-first baseman Lucas Hatfield and pitcher-outfielder Jared Wells. Key Juniors include Dawson Fenix, Brett Benefiel and Landon Tracy.
Look for Adams and Boren to headline the pitching staff. Last season, Adams pitched 41 innings, third-most on the team, and finished with a 1.34 earned run average.
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“Hunter had a strikeout per inning last year, and he’s got good off-speed stuff. He’s been pitching varsity since his sophomore year,” Darnell said. “Dason pitches to contact.”
Jeremiah Kennedy, a sophomore, and Allison also could be in the mix.
“(Kennedy) has potential to see some varsity innings. He’s tall and lanky and downhill,” Darnell said. “We saw good things out of him last summer. Allison was a JV pitcher last year but made some strides last summer.”
Summer ball helped ready this year’s varsity. But …
“The pressure isn’t as great in the summertime,” Darnell said. “We’re going to have to see some of these guys when it counts.”
Sullivan and Cannon can play the middle infield, Boren at third base when not pitching, Hatfield at first and Wells in the outfield. Fenix should handle the catching duties after playing 25 varsity games last year.
“Fenix is a solid defensive catcher and good blocker,” Darnell said. “He’s got a chance to be a really good player.”
Last summer also helped the team settle in defensively, especially up the middle.
“We know what we’re getting with them,” Darnell said.
For Darnell, it’s an interesting season. It’s his 15th at the school, where he is 258-116. The summer ball program has improved over the years and could certainly pay off going into what’s truly an unknown spring.
It will need to. Of the seniors who graduated, the Bulldogs lost 137 of their 173 RBI as well as 961 of their 1,165 plate appearances.
“We feel like our players are prepared to play,” Darnell said. “We’ve got a good summer program, so we’re not going in totally blind. We’re excited about that. All the players got in some valuable innings. So you’re excited to see what’s coming. We’ve got a lot of hard-working guys.”